Edinburgh, Fife & East Scotland

Alex Salmond criticises children's ward closure

First Minister Alex Salmond has criticised the temporary closure of a hospital children's ward to patients as "clearly unsatisfactory".

The ward, at St John's Hospital, in Livingston, will not be admitting patients for three weeks during the summer because of staff shortages.

Mr Salmond told MSPs action had been taken to help prevent a repeat.

NHS Lothian said the decision - branded a "betrayal" by the local council - was "not taken lightly".

The St John's ward will continue to asses patients on weekdays, but will transfer children to Edinburgh if they need to be admitted.

On Wednesday, Health Secretary and Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said she was satisfied the closure was a temporary one which had nothing to do with money or resources, but was a last resort to protect children's safety.

During first minister's questions, Mr Salmond said in response to a question from Labour MSP Neil Findlay: "This is clearly an unsatisfactory situation that the member raises.

Image caption The ward in St John's Hospital in Livingston will be closed for three weeks

"It's to do with the difficulties in recruitment of paediatric staff.

"That recruitment process is under way and also a new training exercise is under way, and these actions are designed to ensure that we can avoid such things in St John's hospital in the future."

Mr Findlay said the decision had sparked "real anger" in the area and urged the first minister to personally intervene.

Trainee paediatric doctors were removed from St John's in April, reducing doctors available for out-of-hours cover.

Shifts have been covered since then using the existing team and locum doctors, but NHS Lothian said it was not possible to secure enough staff for the three-week period.

From 9 July the ward will open Monday to Friday from 08:00 to 20:00 as an assessment and programmed investigation unit but will close at weekends.

West Lothian Council leader John McGinty previously described the situation as a "betrayal of local families".

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